Guest Post: The History of Meditation

While millions of people have found inner peace through meditation, it is hard to say they know where it originated from. The history of meditation is saturated; as some of the world’s earliest religions, the Vedic or early Hindu schools, incorporated this practice, especially in their mystical branches. The term meditation was not introduced until the 12th Century AD. The terminology came from the Latin word ‘meditatum’ meaning to ponder.

Origin of Meditation

According to the documented records, meditation is believed to have originated from India at least 1500 years BCE (Before Common Era). However, history experts claim that meditation can be traced back to as early as 3000 BCE. Between 600-500 BCE, other forms of meditation grew tremendously in Taoist China and Buddhist India. Between 400-100 BCE, the Bhagavad Gita was written, the reference of which is used till today. This scripture discussed the philosophy of meditation and yoga. It is referenced as a practice guide on living a spiritual life.

Over the centuries, meditation has evolved and taken many forms in different religions. However, the central component of meditation remains to be the path to spiritual development.

Meditation in the East

Meditation, as a practice to get on to the spiritual path, has been most closely associated with Buddhism. The Buddha lived in Southeast Asia about 2600 years ago and discovered that meditative concentration is one of the three things (proper ethical conduct and wisdom of seeing true things; being the other two) that lead to spiritual awakening. His teachings inspired the generations of practitioners to achieve lasting peace through mindful awareness.     

Seekers traveled from far-flung countries to learn from men and women who gained insight by putting the Buddha’s teachings into practice. These seekers would then take the learnings back home. At one point, people from modern-day territories such as Afghanistan to Mongolia and Japan to Indonesia practiced some form of Buddhist meditation. Buddhism has known to adapt to the cultures where it had taken its root. Zen meditation is one such example. A Japanese monk, Dosho, visited China in 653 CE and studied under great master Hsuan Tsang. The monk discovered zen and opened the first meditation hall in Japan. In the 8th century, Japanese Buddhism evolved and meditation halls appeared to be a norm. It was Monk Guigo II who introduced the terminology ‘meditation’ in the 12th Century AD.

Meditation in the West

Meditation caught the attention of the west in the mid-20th century. The meditation masters from the East arrived in the west to share their knowledge with the interested students. People from the west who wanted to seek mindfulness traveled east and received training under great masters in India, Burma, Thailand, and other Asian countries. They then brought their understanding of mindfulness back home and shared it with other seekers.

Today, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is considered to be one of the most compelling figures in the circle of mindfulness. He established the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. He founded a program called the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) which uses meditative methods to bring mindfulness and treatments for patients with chronic illnesses. Since then, meditation has become progressively more common. It assumes a focal role in many religions and their underlying customs. According to Naturazi, it is one of the ways to lower blood sugar levels naturally, in addition to helping people control stress and enhance overall wellbeing.

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